Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Sad news of the death of Lukas Vischer

We heard early this morning of the death of Lukas Vischer.
The picture here is of him addressing the 75th anniversary of Faith and Order in Lausanne in 2002.
I'll add further information to this post as tributes arrive. His contribution to ecumenism has been quite extraordinary.
"The World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement have lost an outstanding ecumenist, a man of vision and great passion for the future of life on earth and for a church visibly united in faithfulness to Christ's calling", said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia in a tribute.
At a more personal level I shall miss him turning up in the library to talk about the local churches and his various projects. His ferocious intellect and amazing energy could be a bit intimidating but it has been an enormous privilege to know him.
Last year he organised a truly wonderful event in Geneva which brought together many of the migrant churches with the Swiss Protestant churches in an event called witnessing together. We had regional multilingual communion services and then set off on a colourful and noisy walk of witness for peace ending on the steps of the cathedral. It was quite extraordinary. The noise of the Kimbanguist band, the dancing, the artwork the sheer joy and depth of it was quite wonderful. I'm so sad I wasn't yet blogging at that point. I'll try and post some of the photos. I can still rememebr a retired missionary in his 80s coming up to me as we watched the women from the Congo dancing and saying "I think I saw a smile on Calvin's statue". It was as if this was an encounter we had all been waiting for.
Lukas used his position as a key person on the board of the John Knox Centre to bring all of these churches together, over months and years inviting the congregational leaders to the Centre on a regular basis for prayer and Bible study and then working towards this amazing project.
I've just spoken with our friend Jean-Jacques Bauswein who knew Lukas very well. He described that day as the crowning glory of Lukas' career. The sun shone and so many of the congregations Lukas had visited and persuaded came and joined in.
Each of those churches felt honoured that such a well-known and important person should take time to be with them, should want their contribution. He not only believed in and wrote and spoke about unity, but he really went out and tried to get people to do something for unity, to be more united - across linguistic, class and racial barriers.
What moves me as I think of him today is his outstanding intellect linked to a deep sense of service to the gospel and to unity. The humilty of visiting other Christian communities, finding the time, knowing that it's the personal touch that will count. I trust and hope it will have long lasting effects on ecumenism in the Genevan churches.